Jewish Ethics

Jewish Ethics constitute one of three main spheres of Torah activity: 

  1. Bein adam leMakom - between a person and Hashem (God) – (see Ritual)
  2. Bein adam lechaveiro - between a person and their fellow person – interpersonal
  3. Bein adam leatzmo - between a person and themselves – intrapersonal (see Moral Matters)
An example of Chesed(kindness) - giving to the poor

Jewish ethics in Torah refers to the second sphere; bein adam lechaveiro. As such, we are discussing the obligations and foci that a person is required to fulfil in the perfection of their relationship with others.

It follows, then, that the aspect we are talking of here is always expressed in worldly action or speech and cannot remain an internal component of the person, even if it is often directed by internal drives.

Jewish Ethics from the Torah

The great sage Hillel, when approached by a person who committed to convert if Hillel taught him the whole Torah whilst he stood on one leg, responded: what you hate, don’t do to others, this is the whole Torah the other is commentary go and learn (Gemora Shabbos 34a.) Rashi (consummate Torah commentator) explains that it refers to issues such as theft, adultery and most the mitzvos (commandments.)

Caring for others is one of the pillars of Judaism that goes back to Avraham and Sarah, the bastions of chesed (kindness.) This trait has been implanted in the Jewish People since then and has always been a driving force in Jewish communities and practice.

The ultimate realisation of this caring is veahavtah leraecha kamocha (love your fellow like yourself) (Vayikra 19:18.) This is wonderfully illustrated by the incident of the Tzaddik of Yerushalayim (saintly individual of Jerusalem) Rav Ariya Levine who went with his wife to the doctor and stated my wife's foot hurts us.

Indeed, the section of Shulchan Aruch (the definitive halachic work by Rav Yosef Karo zt”l’) called Choshen Mishpat which deals with laws of interpersonal relationships including damages, ownership etc, takes up a major part of the work.

How does one go about perfecting this aspect of Torah Judaism? Starting with the advice of the great sage Hillel. Consider what you hate being done to you and then follow on to refrain from doing that to others. 

Through this focus, one becomes sensitive to the existence and needs of others and acts on this, the first steps in the process of becoming an ethical person.

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